A new group of religious extremists in the United States is seeking to promote and defend an ultra-conservative vision of Mormon belief and harass perceived opponents of those beliefs, which are often racist and bigoted or promote violence.
The conduct of so-called “Deseret nationalists” or “DezNats” has raised questions about how the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is responding to the movement, whose members direct harassment at other Mormons, including those working in church-sponsored institutions such as Brigham Young University (BYU).
Some who identify as DezNats take extreme right positions on gender, sexuality and race. Others describing themselves as Deseret nationalists have advocated for a Mormon-ruled, separatist white ethnostate, located in the Great Basin area briefly claimed by the LDS church in the mid-19th century.
The Guardian’s recent exposure of an assistant attorney general in Alaska – who had posted racist and violent tweets on a DezNat Twitter account – led to that official stepping down from his job. But it also prompted concern about how many DezNat supporters occupy positions of authority across the US.
Last weekend, an anonymous antifascist collective called “DezNat Exposed” published a blogpost alleging that a prominent DezNat account, @extradeadjcb, an associated Substack newsletter and a previous, suspended account, @jcbonthedl, was under the control of Kevin Dolan.
Dolan, who claims on his LinkedIn profile to have US government security clearance, was employed since January by consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton as a enior data scientist. The company has extensive contracts with US military and intelligence agencies and has been labeled “the world’s most profitable spy organization”.
The blogpost identifying Dolan details not only racist, antisemitic and homophobic posts made from the Twitter accounts, but the links between him and the accounts, which include archived posts from previous incarnations of his blogs and Twitter accounts, which point to his personal Facebook and Twitter pages.
Dolan did not immediately respond to repeated requests for comment on the blogpost, sent both to his professional and private email accounts.
A spokesperson for Booz Allen Hamilton issued a statement saying that company policy prevented any specific discussion of employees, but that “Booz Allen is guided by our firm’s purpose and values and uphold all of our employees to those same tenets”.
The statement added: “Booz Allen strongly condemns supremacy groups of all kinds.”
The spokesperson did not immediately respond to further questions on Dolan’s employment status and the nature of his security clearance.
The most recent identification has contributed to a sense that the DezNat movement, whose members often defend the hashtag associated with the group as a simple marker of orthodox LDS belief, is in fact a rallying cry for activists – some of whom are in positions of real world influence – who seek to meld conservative Mormonism with white nationalism and other strands of far-right doctrine.
Last month, Matthias Cicotte, after being identified by the Guardian as the operator of the prominent DezNat twitter account @JReubenCIark, left his job at the Alaska department of law (DoL) after over nine years working there, most recently as chief corrections counsel.
The Guardian’s investigation showed that the Twitter account, under Cicotte’s control, had advocated antisemitic conspiracy theories, anti-Black and anti-Latino prejudices and anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ sentiments.
In a statement emailed to reporters, DoL head and Alaska attorney general Treg Taylor – himself a member of the LDS church – said that “although we cannot talk about personnel matters, we do not want the values and policies of the department of law to be overshadowed by the conduct of one individual”.
Earlier, between the initial revelations about Cicotte and his departure from the DoL, Taylor had sent an all-staff email that he did not “share or condone the personal views espoused by the subject Twitter handle or in other posts using #Deznat”.
Amy Chapman, a researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University, who has carried out research on the DezNat hashtag and the movement around it, said that while the movement was not as large as other, more secular far-right groups, it had extensive “real world effects” on those whom the movement targeted.
The movement and DezNat Twitter hashtag unites a loose collection of ultra-conservative Mormon activists.
In the past, as well as on public social media platforms, members of the movement have reportedly gathered in a private chat using the Discord service, where members freely exchanged “violent, racist, homophobic and sexist remarks”.
Some DezNats have denied that the movement nurtures prejudice, including Gregory Smith, who is running for city council in Ogden, Utah, reportedly has sympathies with the DezNat movement and has repeatedly used the hashtag.
But Chapman said she had long observed the account now revealed as Cicotte’s, and “the thing that struck me the most about the account was its negative attitude towards women and LGBTQ people”, adding that misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are recurring motifs in DezNat discourse.
Often, DezNat accounts claim to be defending the LDS church from advances in the status of women and LGBTQ people in secular society, the effects of which they see as corrupting.
This has led to campaigns of harassment against perceived adversaries, who are overwhelmingly either former members of the church or those perceived as members with progressive social attitudes.
In particular, their ire has been directed at perceived progressives who occupy positions inside church-run institutions such as LDS-sponsored BYU, and are often considered apostates by DezNats.
A member of the faculty at BYU whose identity is being protected for reasons of personal safety told the Guardian that DezNats had weaponized elements of Mormon doctrine in efforts to harass and threaten the employment of people who worked at the university.
That harassment had gone beyond social media mobbing and efforts to have people fired, and crossed over into direct, in-person action. One DezNat aligned activist visited BYU’S Salt Lake City campus to leave photographs of aborted fetuses on the doors of faculty members.
That incident led to the involvement of BYU’s police department.
The victims of these campaigns, along with other Mormons opposed to the hard-right tenets of the DezNat activists, have called for the LDS church to disown the movement.
In response to questions about DezNats, and the church’s willingness to disown them, Douglas Anderson, the church’s media spokesman, wrote in an email that the group was “not affiliated with or endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Anderson added that “in recent months, church leaders have spoken directly on such issues as condemning the recent violence in Washington DC and lawless behavior, the evils of racism … and peacefully accepting the results of political elections”.
Anderson’s statement concluded that “anything that encourages or incites violence is contrary to the recent instruction given by church leaders”.